The Ultimate Guide To The UK’s National Parks

While the world is starting to open up, it might be some time before we can get on a plane. Luckily, we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to vast, beautiful countryside in the UK. We have a total of 15 national parks on our doorstep, and below we’ve summarised the highlights of each one.

(Before you hop in the car though, please check whether the parks are allowing visitors just yet.)

Brecon Beacons

 

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Location: South Wales

Size: 520 square miles

Highlights: This mountainous national park is home to South Wales’ highest peak, Pen Y Fan, where hikers tend to flock to on bank holidays. You’ll also find the whimsical Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal, enchanting castle ruins and the steam-powered Brecon Mountain Railway, which traverses the length of the Taf Fechan Reservoir.

The Broads

 

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Location: Norfolk, England

Size: 117 square miles

Highlights: Made up of 60 broads and seven rivers, this scenic park is also home to two unique species – Britain’s largest butterfly, the swallowtail, and the Norfolk hawker dragonfly. You can take to the tranquil waters in a plethora of vessels, from canoes and kayaks to day boats and yachts – not to mention the traditional Norfolk wherry with its dramatic sail.

Cairngorms

 

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Location: Eastern Highlands, Scotland

Size: 1,748 square miles

Highlights: The UK’s largest national park, the Cairngorms is resplendent with heather-clad moors, forests and lochs, and is home to five of the six tallest mountains in Britain. Part of the Malt Whisky Trail extends into the park too, so you can reward a strenuous hike with a tour of a distillery and a dram of some of the finest single malts and blends. 

Dartmoor

 

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Location: Devon, England

Size: 368 square miles

Highlights: The landscape in Dartmoor is made up of vast moorland, deep valleys and granite rock. The wild and sprawling national park inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to write his novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and Stephen Spielberg shot parts of his blockbuster War Horse there. Imagine you’re on the silver screen yourself, and book a horse riding excursion with one of the various stables.

Exmoor

 

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Location: Somerset and Devon, England

Size: 267 square miles

Highlights: Exmoor National Park is perched overlooking the Bristol Channel in the south-east of England. The coastal expanse comprises of the first part of the scenic but gruelling South West Coast Path, which starts in Minehead and continues for 630 miles all the way to Poole. The Valley of the Rocks is also a popular Exmoor attraction – it’s dry valley along the Devon cast that is home to wild goats, which teeter precariously on the steep cliff faces.

Lake District

 

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Location: Cumbria, England

Size: 912 square miles

Highlights: Influencing literary legends such as William Wordsworth, the Lake District is one of the most well-loved parks in the UK. Curiously, the region is only technically home to one lake – Bassenthwaite Lake – while the rest are in fact meres or waters. Some of the most well-trodden spots include Lake Windermere, where you’ll find The World of Beatrix Potter Attraction, and Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain.

Loch Lomond & The Trossachs

 

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Location: Stirling, Scotland

Size: 720 square miles

Highlights: It’s hard to believe that this Scottish national park is positioned only an hour away from half of the country’s population. The landscape appears almost otherworldly with glassy, winding lochs flanked by verdant forests and peaks. Most visitors tend to, at some point, make the journey to the mystical Loch Lomond at the centre – it’s the UK’s largest lake upon which you can cruise and even dock at one of its islands!

New Forest

 

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Location: Hampshire and Wiltshire, England

Size: 219 square miles

Highlights: New Forest is an excellent place for family days out – within it you’ll find Paultons Park theme park, which is home to Peppa Pig World. Across the landscape, visitors might come across free-roaming animals such as cows, donkeys, ponies, pigs and sheep – plus, horse riding lessons are available for those who want to get up close to the majestic creatures, which are synonymous with the area. History buffs are sure to want to stop off at the maritime hamlet Buckler’s Hard, where Nelson’s ships were built.

Northumberland

 

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Location: Northeast England

Size: 405 square miles

Highlights: It might be the least populated of the UK’s national parks but it is by no means the least interesting. You’ll find part of the UNESCO-protected Hadrian’s Wall here, featuring turrets, bathhouses, and forts – some of which are still being excavated! One of the most famous photo opportunities along the way is undoubtedly Sycamore Gap, where a scene from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was filmed. Kielder Water & Forest Park, within the national park, is home to England’s largest forest, northern Europe’s largest manmade lake, and the second largest area of protected night sky in Europe.

North Yorkshire Moors

 

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Location: North Yorkshire, England

Size: 554 square miles

Highlights: The North Yorkshire Moors are particularly atmospheric, featuring the crumbling ruins of the grand Rievaulx Abbey and the jagged cliff of Roseberry Topping, which offers panoramic views across the wild, rolling hills. On the coast, you’ll find more dark romance in Whitby – the setting of Bram Stoker’s infamous vampire tale, Dracula. The gothic Whitby Abbey, often shrouded in mist, stands eerily overlooking the wild North Sea.

Peak District

 

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Location: Northwest England

Size: 555 square miles

Highlights: The Peak District is scattered with picture-perfect market towns and villages from which you can explore the bucolic surrounds, including Bakewell, which is the birthplace of the famous English tart, and near to the impressive stately home of Chatsworth. The park is filled with inimitable cycling and hiking trails, such as the Castleton to Mam Tor route, or the Hathersage to Stanage Edge path that boasts dreamy views over the Derwent and Hope Valleys.

Pembrokeshire Coast

 

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Location: West Wales

Size: 243 square miles

Highlights: The Pembrokeshire Coast Path, which stretches 186 miles around the edge of the national park, is regularly listed as one of the best coastal trails in the whole world! Its limestone cliffs are dimpled with idyllic and deserted coves. If you prefer to explore a little inland, then the Presili Hills make for stunning views across the rugged terrain, which at points is punctuated with the remains of prehistoric structures.

Snowdonia

 

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Location: North Wales

Size: 823 square miles

Highlights: Perhaps the most famous national park in Wales is Snowdonia, where the country’s tallest mountain, Snowdon, is located. It’s favoured by first-time hikers, and climbing enthusiasts alike. The Snowdonia Mountain Railway is also on hand for those who don’t feel like trekking, but want to enjoy the views. You’ll also come across a number of grandiose castles including Conwy Castle, as well as the (alleged) smallest house in Great Britain, Quay House in Conwy.

South Downs

 

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Location: Southeast England

Size: 259 square miles

Highlights: The South Downs is the newest national park in Britain, earning its status in 2011. The area is comprised of the dazzling Seven Sisters chalk cliffs and Beachy Head – the highest chalk sea cliff in the UK. The region is also the site of some lofty architecture including the Grade I-listed medieval Arundel Castle and Winchester Cathedral.

Yorkshire Dales

 

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Location: North Yorkshire and Cumbria, England

Size: 841 square miles

Highlights: West of the North Yorkshire Moors, you’ll find the sprawling Dales, which boast the Pennines as well as plenty of idyllic English farmland with drystone walls, rolling hills, pretty moors and noteworthy sights such as the dramatic Cautley Spout waterfall and Gaping Gill – a cave through which a waterfall tumbles. There are also more than a handful of historic villages to enjoy a slower pace of life.

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About Marianne
Marianne

When Marianne isn't writing about all the wonderful places you can visit through dealchecker, she enjoys exploring London, visiting scenic spots within the UK and adventuring further afield whenever possible!

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